the source
Thursday, 07 June 2012

Film Reviews: 8 June

Will there be a happy ending? This thoughtful film keeps you guessing till the end

Written by Kat Brown


kat brown1-BWAt first glance, The Source writes itself as the sort of exotic drama beloved of BBC commissioning editors. A female-centric drama with lots of lovely scenery, joyful women singing, wise old crones and a contemporary twist on the Greek sex-strike story of Lysistrata – jackpot. Thankfully, writer/ director Radu Mihaileanu has made a nuanced drama that adds grit to a very pretty postcard.

In a remote North African village, a pregnant woman falls and miscarries while carrying water back from its source high in the hills. This isn't the first time a baby has been lost this way, and young bride Leila (Leïla Bekhti) is enraged by the conspiracy of silence among the women who accept this as a sad by-product of tradition. Leila suggests a love strike. No sex until the menfolk sort out piped water for the village, instead of sitting around drinking tea and letting their women do all the work. As in Aristophanes' story, neither women nor men find this particularly enjoyable.

Interpretations of the Qur'an are thrown about by the men to accuse their wives of going against the Prophet's word, while the women – led by Leila and the wise and embattled old widow, 'Mother Rifle' (Biyouna) – thrash out what it is they want from life. I know precisely nothing about remote Moroccan villages, but could quite happily watch a film made up solely of the women quarrelling and singing together.

Tradition and progress rub against each other uneasily: Mother Rifle chats to her son on a mobile phone, he turns up demanding women should wear veils. Leila's husband Sami, a rare love match and the only man in the village with a job, has taught Leila to read and write.

While this gives freedom to the women – Leila reads them illicit stories from The Arabian Nights, and writes out her sister's love letters – this has mixed consequences as the strike continues and the men's mood grows darker.

This is a story about the importance of consideration and respect, rather than the negative aspects of religion. One of the best scenes sees Leila, prepped like Rocky by her school teacher husband, in a Qur'an-quoting face-off with the well-meaning village Imam.

Full credit to writer/director Radu Mihaileanu's script: while you hope for a happy ending, it never feels like an inevitable outcome. This is realism, however beautifully painted, and Leila's way is paved with the most suffocating of little obstacles. Leila's biggest enemy is her bitterly resentful mother-inlaw (Hiam Abbass), who keeps urging Sami to repudiate Leila and take another wife. It is an unwillingness to change that's the villain here, not the men. Just as Sami is enlightened, so his brother Mohammed is the wife-beating, scared opposite.

Despite odd jumps in plot and a tendency to gloss over certain plot developments, the run time could do with a good half hour lopped off it. But The Source is a real treat.

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